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'Tiger Unsung'

Last month, the Marxist West Bengal government organised a three-day event to commemorate the 201st death anniversary of Tipu Sultan. Yet, in the territory that he ruled, the Tiger of Mysore, ironically, was left unhonoured and unsung.

Just last year, the Janata Dal government had made grand announcements that it would
commemorate the bicentenary year in a befitting manner. Yet, precious little was done, even as the period limped to a close in the early part of last month. It had drawn up plans to bring out a booklet on the life and secular policies of Tipu, besides producing a documentary and developing a website to depict his legacy! An international centre for research, a documentary film and a bravery award in his name for the State police were promised. None of these grandiose proposals fructified. In fact, the Bicentenary Year Observance Committee, headed by Roshan Baig, then in the J H Patel ministry, did not meet even once. The State government was satisfied with a seminar attended by
historians from Norway and Scotland at the City, in May last year.

Roshan Baig, now the Tourism Minster, defended that due to the change in government, and later the Panchayat and Zilla Parishad elections, there was no time to follow up on the celebration plans. But now, with the appointment of a new Director for the Kannada and Culture Department, something will be chalked out soon.

Tipu died defending his capital, Srirangapatna, against the British onslaught in the IVth Mysore War of 1799. Tipus skirmishes with the British constituted the rearguard action of the native princes against British domination and with his fall, the British suzerainty over the subcontinent was complete.

Prof S Chandrashekhar, from the History Department, Bangalore University, points out that Tipu fought for independence, which distinguishes him from other weak and compliant kings of his time.
We should have had at least a symbolic celebration in his memory.

Noted historian, Sheikh Ali, confirms that the West Bengal government had organised a three-day commemorative event from May 2, though the Sultans only link with Calcutta is that his descendants are living there, albeit in penury. The commemoration, from May 2, was attended by three former prime ministers -- H D Deve Gowda, V P Singh and Chandrashekhar. A number of seminars and debates for students and a unique exhibition on his life sang his glory.

Prof Ali, who attended them in Calcutta, regrets that the Karnataka government did not think it fit to carry out its original plans. The Karnataka governments move has been mired in controversy, what with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal threatening to disrupt the commemoration, claiming that Tipu was a religious bigot.

The State Minorities Commission Chairman, Azeez Sait, who is also a Congress MLA, was of the view that the threats could not have scuttled the event if the government had shown interest. After all, what could they have done?he asks.

The governments failure to observe the bicentenary after making an announcement, amounts to disrespecting the great warrior king. He squarely blames Mr Baig, who contines to be a minister. Bharatiya Janata Party MLC, Mr Madhusudhan, says the event fizzled out because there is no enthusiasm among the people. Tipu was a communal ruler who forced conversions in Kerala and Kodagu. He was not a freedom fighter because he only fought the British to safeguard his own kingdom, he shrugs.

Hotly disputing his views, former State minister, Mohammed Moienuddin, who has done ten years of research on Tipu, points out that Sringeri Mutt still has fabulous jewels donated by Tipu and his father Hyder Ali, while his letters, which spoke of his generous donations, showed that he held Goddess Sharada Devi in reverence. Tipu helped the mutt when the Marathas plundered it.

Tipu was a social reformer as well, having abolished prostitution and introduced prohibition. Charges of conversions are exaggerated, he says, even if it is true that Tipu offered his prisoners of war the choice of imprisonment or conversion and many opted to become Muslims. Others became Muslims to curry his favour.

Prof Chandrashekhar adds that Tipus conversionsshould not be seen as a religious move, but in the context of the political set-up he was mired in. It was more to isolate some people in Malabar psychologically.


---- DECCAN HERALD, Friday, June 02, 2000